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Dow Finsterwald, a former member of the OU golf team, is one of the most prestigious athletes to come out of the Athens area. Finsterwald won the PGA Tournament in 1958 and narrowly missed out on a second major championship at the 1960 The Masters, which he lost due to a two-stroke penalty. (Jason Chow | Staff Photographer )

Golf legend Finsterwald returns to OU for round of golf

One of the most accomplished individual athletes in Ohio University history returned home Thursday. Dow Finsterwald made a career of golf, after being raised by a father that was both a football and basketball coach here at Ohio.

The Athens native is the son of iconic coach and member of the first class inducted in to the athletics hall of fame, Russ Finsterwald.

When he was younger, Dow took a job in Cleveland to earn a little money. His father told him that if he saved his money, he could purchase tickets to the World Series, but Dow had other ideas.

“I saved my money but I went and bought a set of golf clubs and didn’t go to the World Series,” he said. “I had gotten the bug, and I’m still infected with that golf bug.”

Finsterwald said choosing anywhere other than Ohio for college was not an option, saying that Athens and OU cannot be separated.

He recounted his days playing for Kermit Blosser, the man for whom the athletics hall of fame is named. He said that Blosser might have been the greatest athlete to ever come through Ohio University.

Blosser was appointed the golf coach with little knowledge of the game, but Finsterwald said he still taught the team what was necessary.

“He knew what teams needed to do. As far as how to play to the game, Kermit didn’t do a great deal of instruction, but he was adamant about hard work,” he said.

Finsterwald took that work ethic to the Professional Golf Association but an old rule said he had to be a professional for six months before he could collect prize money from tournaments.

 He was a Reserve Officer Training Corps member and was in the service until 1954. He was afforded the opportunity to play golf as he was moved from base to base and became a full time pro in 1955.

Finsterwald hauled in the big money by winning the 1958 PGA Championship and was PGA player of the year as well. In September of 1958, Athens Country Club held Dow Finsterwald Day and it also marked the first time Jack Nicklaus played Arnold Palmer.

“It was pretty well accepted that after watching Jack play that afternoon that something drastic would have to happen for him not to be as successful as he was,” Finsterwald said.

In 1960, Finsterwald was two strokes from winning The Masters. But he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for practice putting.

Finsterwald said he was practice putting during the first round, because he did not know it was against the tournament’s local rules. The other part of his pairing, Billy Casper said that he shouldn’t be doing that because it was against the rules.

Finsterwald admitted the penalty and finished third in the tournament.

“When I got through with the round, they determined that they would add two strokes to my first round score and I would be allowed to continue in the championship,” he said. On one hand I was disappointed in the penalty, the other, I felt fortunate to still be playing.”

Finsterwald was captain of a Ryder Cup team that included Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd, Lanny Watkins and Hale Irwin. It was also the last year that it was exclusively Great Britain and Ireland on the European side. The United States team won pretty handily that year, but some of the memories were rough.

“In 1957 we lost that year so I did know what it felt like to lose and it ain’t no fun,” he said.

Ohio director of golf and men’s coach Bob Cooley played a round yesterday as part of a foursome with Finsterwald.

“It’s always great to have your alumni back and he is our most famous one,” Cooley said. “It’s a real privilege to see him.”

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